LOS ANGELES — With new cases rising across Los Angeles County, health officials are stressing that the best protection again COVID-19, including the highly contagious delta variant, is to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

But if the word of health officials isn't enough to sway all Angelenos, perhaps they'll listen to Genese Scott.  

What You Need To Know

  • Volunteers work in two-hour shifts, making phone calls to urge residents to get vaccinated

  • All you need is a phone and a computer; LA Works provides a script

  • LA Works is looking for more volunteers for this project, especially Spanish speakers

  • Area being targeted include Pacoima, Watts and Panorama City

"Hi. My name is Genese," she said into her phone for the fifth time in about as many minutes.

Scott is a volunteer leader for LA Works, and these days she is phone banking. 

"I feel like I'm making a dent," she said with a smile, "making a change for the world."

That's a lofty accomplishment, and she does it without leaving her home office. In an average two-hour shift, Scott will make something like 30 to 40 phone calls. Her goal: to spread the word that vaccines are available and free.

Most of the time, Scott just leaves a message. When someone does answer, she doesn't always get the best reception.

"Some people, I'm not even gonna lie, just straight up hang up on you when you ask if they are vaccinated," she admitted. "But that's OK. So again, I'm thinking maybe we are planting a seed."

LA Works is organizing the Phone Banking for Vaccine Equity Project to address gaps in vaccination efforts. Denise Flaten is the program manager.

"This pandemic has taught us that if one person is not on board, everybody is not on board, and so, therefore, we really need everybody to do this as [a] group effort in order for things to go back to normal," she explained.

She has volunteers calling residents in specific communities with the lowest vaccination rates. Pacoima, Watts, Panorama City, places, that she says are well below the threshold of herd immunity. As larger vaccination sites begin to close, she worries these communities are being left behind.

"We want to make sure that the public doesn't just think, OK, everyone is vaccinated, and let's give up on people who aren't vaccinated," she said, "because there are some real reasons."

For one thing, the hours. Scott's script, delivered in a voicemail after voicemail, lists one site with hours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. But if vaccination sites operate during business hours, some residents might not be able to take time off work to get the shot or take a day or two off to recover from the possible side effects.

Another bigger hurdle is distrust.

"A lot of these communities are communities of color that have experienced medical racism for a very long time, and that's a real thing," Flaten said.

Scott hears these concerns often. With few Black or brown doctors serving these communities, she said people don't have an established relationship with a regular trusted practitioner.

"When an official comes and says 'Hey, take a shot,' you're going to be a little more skeptical if you don't have that regular connection," she explained.

Of course, there are also those who doubt the science or disagree with the politics, and that's fine, Flaten said. 

"We like to say our job is to inform, not to convince," she said, which is fine by Scott.

When one of her calls is answered with skepticism, she much prefers to make a personal connection over a political argument. 

"You know, I understand why you might be hesitant," she said, illustrating her approach, "but I feel that it's safe, and I've personally been vaccinated. I felt comfortable getting vaccinated."

After two hours of talking, Scott is ready to disconnect.

"Thank you! Goodbye!" she cheerily sang as she pressed the button to end the call.

She did her part. Now all she can do is hope someone who isn't vaccinated gets the message.

"I feel like I've at least gotten some information out into the world," she explained. "It feels very valuable and very helpful like you are doing a great thing."

LA Works is looking for more volunteers for phone banking or neighborhood canvassing. They are particularly interested in residents from the low vaccination areas as well as volunteers who speak Spanish. 

For information, visit laworks.com/vaccines.